Immigrant rights groups protest across city

Members of the New Sanctuary Movement called their rally an "un-barbecue." In South Philadelphia, another group decried last week's arrests near Eighth and Tasker Streets.
Members of the New Sanctuary Movement called their rally an "un-barbecue." In South Philadelphia, another group decried last week's arrests near Eighth and Tasker Streets. (ED HILLE / Staff Photographer)
Posted: July 05, 2013

With an "un-barbecue" for undocumented immigrants near the Liberty Bell and a rally against recent police raids on immigrant households in South Philadelphia, advocates across the city called for "just and humane federal immigration reform" Wednesday on the eve of Independence Day.

On Independence Mall, the New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia used vacant coolers, upturned picnic baskets, and empty plates on a blanket to symbolize "the absence of liberty" for some immigrants.

"Tomorrow is liberty day, but liberty for who? Our immigrant families are being deported every day," said outreach coordinator Blanca Pacheco. "Our communities are living in fear. Our kids are afraid of waking up one day and not finding their parents with them."

Although the U.S. Senate recently passed a bill that could lead to citizenship for many of the estimated 11 million immigrants living illegally in America, an estimated three to five million might not get that opportunity because of income requirements and other restrictions, Pacheco said.

She cited the example of a Philadelphia man and his wife, from Mexico, who have their own business making and selling tamales at clinics and construction sites where Latinos congregate.

The man, who spoke at the demonstration and was identified only as Gerardo, pays taxes using a taxpayer identification number, Pacheco said, but his income often is below 125 percent of the poverty level, the threshold defined in the Senate bill. Falling below the threshold makes him ineligible for citizenship even though he has lived in the United States for 25 years, she said.

Another concern, she said, is the bill's employment requirement. "Provisional immigrants" on the 13-year path to eventual citizenship would lose their status if they were unemployed for more than two months. "In this economy, over a decade, who can guarantee that won't happen?" Pacheco said.

Across town at Ninth and Ellsworth Streets, at the edge of the Italian Market, advocates from the group Juntos decried arrests last week near Eighth and Tasker Streets.

Juntos leaders said the raids were joint operations involving federal agents and local police.

It was unclear, however, that the raids targeted immigrants, although the arrests are likely to lead to deportations.

A spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) declined comment.

Last week, the Juntos office was flooded with calls after "what we can only describe as abuse at the hands of law enforcement," said executive director Erika Almiron.

Almiron said agents broke down people's doors starting at 6 a.m., pulling guns and questioning adults and children without interpreters.

"We know that some community members were handed over to ICE in this process," Almiron said. "We have said before, and we will say again, that when local law enforcement works with ICE, you cannot build trust with our community but rather, you build mistrust."

In one instance outlined at the rally, a man wanted on a charge of driving under the influence was arrested at gunpoint in front of his elementary school-age children, his wife said. He is in detention. Regardless of the outcome of his DUI case, he faces deportation.

Contact Michael Matza at 215-854-2541,, or follow on Twitter @MichaelMatza1

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